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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

The Gift that Keeps on Giving - Pastor John Roekle

January 5, 2020 [Christmas 2] John 1:14-18 J.D.Roekle

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Dear Friends in Christ,

My wife and I received an Instant Pot for Christmas from one of our sons. Now, I have to confess that I didn’t really know much about it before we received it, and in fact, I’ve been just gradually learning about it since. The Instant Pot makes many claims. It is easy to use. It is easy to clean. It can cook up to 70% faster than other cooking methods. It can provide healthier, less expensive meals quickly. It replaces up to 7 other kitchen appliances. And of course, this isn’t a one-use gift. This is a gift that keeps giving, since it can be used over and over again.

Our Heavenly Father did not have our stomachs in mind when he sent his Christmas gift into the world: his own Son. But he certainly did have our best interests in mind. When Jesus came to earth, the Bible literally tells us that he “tented” among us. Just as a tent is temporary housing, so also the earth was going to be temporary housing for Jesus. He was here and gone in 33 years. And yet, Jesus was not just a temporary gift that was given for a few decades. Jesus is a gift that we enjoy today. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.

Are you one that likes to find unique gifts to give? You search high and low. You go to specialty shops in various places to find it. You scour the internet for that one gift that stands out.

Jesus is a unique gift. John says he is one of a kind. He is the one and only. At first glance, it may not appear that way. The prophet Isaiah said this about Jesus: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Far from looking unique, Jesus looked rather plain and ordinary. There wasn’t anything in his features, his build, or his stature that gave the appearance that this was someone special.

But just as the best gifts are in unlikely packages, so it is with Jesus. Jesus appeared as he did so that he could experience all that we experience. He would experience hunger, thirst, pain, sorrow, and even death. He would experience all things we do, except sin. He was born without sin, and he never engaged in sin of any kind. That’s what makes him such a one of a kind gift. He is a one of a kind gift that keeps on giving.

There are people who like to overwhelm people with gifts. They give gifts to people for every conceivable occasion. They like to give many, many gifts. Jesus is one who has an overabundance of gifts to give, and he gives them most generously to us. In particular, he gives us grace and truth.

Grace is God’s unearned and unmerited favor. He loves us unconditionally and ‘just because.’ It is the Law that reminds us of who we are. Think of what you confessed earlier: “I confess that I am by nature dead in sin. For faithless worrying and selfish pride, For sins of habit and sins of choice, For the evil I have done and the good I have failed to do, You should cast me away from your presence forever.”

If that’s the end of it, we’re in big trouble. But the gift that keeps on giving reaches out to us with his grace. Christ has died for you! Christ has risen for you! Christ will come again…for you! Christ is the one who has made us alive even though we were dead, steeped in our sins. And it is Christ who declares to us that because of what he has done, our sins are forgiven.

Now that you have received forgiveness of sins from Christ, does that mean you won’t sin once you leave church today? Of course not. If we say that we’re without sin or that we’ll quit sinning, we are only deceiving ourselves. No, the truth is that our sinning will continue today and beyond. But remember that God’s grace is like a well that never runs dry. Next week, the pastor will announce once again that your sins are forgiven. That will be true the following week and the week after that. Grace is a gift that you’ll never be short of. It will always come to you plentifully.

And another gift that Jesus gives you and me is truth. The term “fake news” has been popularized primarily by our current president. The term calls into question whether or not what is being spoken or written is true. How do you know what to believe? What source is really accurate? Who do you trust?

Isn’t it comforting then to know that Jesus speaks truth. In fact, Jesus is truth in the flesh. The purpose of the Bible is to point to Jesus. All Old Testament prophesy is fulfilled in Jesus. The purpose of the New Testament is to point to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.

In our world, people want to create their own truth. Their own reality. “I’ll believe what I want to believe.” Others question: “How do I know what to believe?” What a gift it is to know the truth! There is only one reality. And it is all rooted in our Triune God, and revealed to us in Jesus Christ. What a comfort it is to know this truth. Knowing the truth changes our whole perspective on life. Don’t take this truth for granted!

Why is Christ such a great gift? There are many births that have been widely anticipated. For instance, whenever someone in the royal family is giving birth to a baby, the press is all over it. There has not been a more anticipated birth, however, than the birth of the Christ child. What is it that sets this child apart? The lyrics of the Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?” express it: “When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God. Mary did you know?”

That seems like a contradiction when you read John’s Gospel. He says: “no one has ever seen God.” So how do we understand this? If we are to see God in all his glory, as sinners we could not survive such an encounter. God is too holy for us. So what does God do? He makes himself known to us by toning down his glory. He puts himself into the form of a tiny baby, whose brain needs to develop and who needs to learn to crawl and then walk.

But make no mistake. Mary was kissing the face of God. She and Joseph raised the Son the God. The gift of this child is so special because only God can be such a blessing to so many. From him, John says, “we have all received one blessing after another.” Jesus gives us one blessing after another. But you know, that doesn’t tell the real story. More literally, those words of John read: “we have all received grace upon grace.” That tells you even more about the gift giver. It tells you his heart. It tells you that he has an endless supply of love for you.

You may have received some very useful gifts for Christmas. Ones that you will use over and over again. But one day, those gifts you reuse will break or wear out or become obsolete. Jesus Christ is the one gift that is always needed and is always useful. And it is the one gift that truly never stops giving. Amen.

And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever - Pastor John Roekle

November 24, 2019 [Christ the King] Colossians 1:13-20 J.D.Roekle

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever

Dear Friends in Christ,

On the game show Family Feud, hosted by Steve Harvey, contestants are asked to guess how 100 people responded to various survey questions. On a 2012 episode, a contestant had to provide the top answers to the following survey question: "When someone mentions 'the King,' to whom might he or she be referring?" Can you guess who got he most votes? The vast majority – 81 out of 100 said the King is Elvis Presley. The other top vote getters? Two people said “The Burger King”; three said “Martin Luther King, Jr.” and seven said “God or Jesus.” The thing that is interesting to me is the fact that none of the 4 answers are really kings in the traditional sense of the word. Merriam-Webster defines a king as: “a male monarch of a major territorial unit.”

Elvis? The Burger King? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Jesus? None of them are rulers over a ‘territorial unit.’ And yet, the Bible speaks of Jesus as a King. As the King. He is a different kind of King. A King which the world has never seen before or since. In fact, he is unique because of how long his reign lasts. Netflix has a made for TV series called “The Crown” which documents the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The interesting thing about that series is the fact that Queen Elizabeth is still on the throne as she has been for the last 67 years. That’s quite a remarkable run! Since she is in her 90s, we know her reign won’t last much longer. However, Jesus’ reign is much longer. Jesus’ reign never ends. That’s good news for you and me!

Even though we take one Sunday a year to acknowledge Christ as King, we confess that truth regularly. In both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed we regularly confess Christ is King when we say that he is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

How do you envision that? Do you see the Father sitting on a throne, and Jesus sitting on a throne right next to him? That certainly is the picture being portrayed, but Jesus isn’t sitting on a literal throne, is he?! The picture is meant to relay to us that Jesus is in a position of ultimate power and authority. He is God’s ‘right hand man.’

And as such, what has he done and what is he doing? First of all, he has brought us into his kingdom. When you live in a country, you know that there are defined physical borders surrounding it. Those who rule that country rule only that which is inside the borders.

Entering into Christ’s kingdom is different. In fact, the kingdom comes to us. It enters our hearts by faith. And it is through the Word that this faith comes to us. That’s why baptism is so crucial for infants and small children. Since they cannot hear and comprehend the spoken Word of God, the Word of God connected with simple water brings Christ’s kingdom to their hearts.

And think about why we can be a part of this kingdom to begin with. By nature, we are enemies of God. We are enemies of the king. Paul told the Roman Christians that “the sinful mind is hostile to God.”

Knowing that, why in the world would God even want us to be a part of his kingdom?! God did not want us to reside in “the dominion of darkness.” Even though we deserved it, God did not want us to be dominated by the powers of darkness: Our sin and all its evil results, including death, eternal death, and of course, the devil.

And so, God went to work by sending King Jesus to defeat those powers that threaten us with eternal harm. But he didn’t defeat those enemies as we might expect him to. In fact, the way that Jesus went about winning is something that puzzles the world. We think of kings assembling great armies and conquering their enemies by force. But this wasn’t the way it was with Jesus.

It certainly puzzled Pontius Pilate. Or maybe we should say that he didn’t really take Jesus’ claims very seriously. The sign that he had placed above Jesus’ cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews,” was dripping with sarcasm. Pilate didn’t really take his claim of royalty seriously, did he? The rulers, soldiers, and even one of the criminals on the cross didn’t take Jesus seriously either.

But Jesus was a different kind of king. And one of the thieves on the cross recognized that fact. He knew Jesus was different. That’s why he asked Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

While we may know these words of this thief best, his other words on the cross also indicate that he knew Jesus was a different kind of king. While the other thief taunted Jesus, this thief rebuked him saying: “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same condemnation? 41We are punished justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Jesus didn’t really belong on the cross. He had done nothing wrong. And as others indicated, he had the power to come down from the cross. And yet he stayed. He stayed, because it is there on the cross that Jesus defeated our foes. He conquered sin by becoming sin for us. He conquered death by taking the threat of eternal death, hell, out of it. In doing this, he reversed the work of Satan who was trying to drag the world down to his lair. When he cried “It is finished” on the cross, his work to conquer our enemies and ensure our salvation was complete.

In defeating all our enemies, King Jesus reaches out to us with something more valuable than all the money in the world. He reaches out to us with the forgiveness of our sins. And King Jesus has a wealth of forgiveness to dole out. In fact, it’s limitless!

And that’s good to know, isn’t it? After all, our natural tendency to oppose the throne of God is still with us. If someone would threaten the throne of an earthly king, that person would be tried for treason, and may even be put to death. But even as we assault the throne of God with our every sin, King Jesus continues to pardon us.

And he takes it even farther than that. Not only does he pardon or forgive us, but he continues to protect us. It is as if he sends a security detail to follow us around and ensure that our enemies can do us no harm.

Not only does King Jesus promise to protect us, but he can back it up. I’m reminded of the Halleluiah chorus of Handel’s Messiah. “King of kings, and Lord of lords” rings out loudly. He is above all authority. Above all rulers that have ever lived. He is the all-powerful Son of God who was there at creation; who came to save us by going the way of the cross; who rose victoriously from the grave; who ascended in triumph to heaven; and who sits in the greatest position of power possible. And the Halleluiah chorus repeats the truth over and over: “…and He shall reign forever and ever…” Who is THE King? Many in the world may have their ideas. But for you and me, there can be no doubt. The King is Jesus! Amen.

The Perfect Home - Pastor John Roekle

November 3, 2019 [All Saints] Revelation 22:1-5 J.D.Roekle

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

The Perfect Home

Dear Friends in Christ,

“Home is where the heart is.” “There’s no place like home.” “I’ll be home for Christmas.” There is something about calling a place home. A place where we feel comfortable. A place where we feel needed. A place where we feel safe. A place where we feel loved.

The reality is that a home like that doesn’t come along all too often. Even the best homes have their problems. That’s because of what happened in the first home which God had made for Adam and Eve. He had made the perfect home for Adam and Eve to live in. They had everything. All their needs were taken care of. They were in perfect harmony with each, with the world, and with God.

But then the perfect home was infiltrated by Satan who convinced Eve that things weren’t as perfect as they thought. He lied to Eve, making her think that God was holding out on them. Eve bought the lie, and so did Adam.

The perfect home was now a broken home. Now all they knew was wickedness, depravity, immorality, and every other corruption. Their relationship with each and with God was now strained. The corrupt world which we call home today had become a reality.

It wasn’t long after the Garden of Eden incident, however, that God, in speaking to Satan, made a promise of reversing what Satan had engineered. It was the seed of the woman that would ensure that people would once again be in harmony with the world around them, with other people, and especially with God. This seed, Jesus, would do this by coming to this imperfect home, reconciling the world to himself through his perfect life and sacrifice.

And let’s not be mistaken. The goal was not to make a perfect home here on earth. The goal was to reconcile our relationship with God, so that we enter the perfect home in heaven. This world will never be perfect. In fact, it will only get worse.

But God has a special place waiting for all his saints who have gone through the trials and tribulations of this place. He has a perfect home waiting. And John records his vision of this perfect home in Revelation. Let’s take a closer look at that perfect home. As we do, may it lead us to live our lives in joy as we look forward to being permanent residents of that perfect home.

Keep in mind that the book of Revelation gives a series of pictures. Pictures that assist us in understanding things we are incapable of fully comprehending this side of heaven. The verses before us today give us a glimpse of the perfect home ahead of us.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city.”

The picture of the perfect home ahead is similar in some ways to the Garden of Eden. The river of the water of life is one such similarity. Genesis tells us that a “river watering the garden flowed from Eden.” This water was responsible for keeping life going in the Garden of Eden. Water is so necessary for life even today!

The river in the perfect home ahead also contains the water of life. But this is more than the kind of water that covers over 2/3 of the earth’s surface. This water of life reminds us of the water that Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well about: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus was talking about His Word! And the water in the perfect home ahead also has the life-giving power of the Word. You see, the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Jesus Christ is the source of life. He gives life by providing forgiveness through his sacrifice on the accursed tree that gives us life. It is that forgiveness that will sustain us throughout eternity! In fact, it is the only thing that enables us to enter into the perfect home ahead.

The picture of the perfect home continues: “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.”

The tree of life is in the perfect home ahead just as it was in the Garden of Eden. In heaven, this tree is a reminder that all who enter heaven become perfect and remain perfect forever. And this perfection won’t be a dull and boring existence. It will be a full life. There will be so much there to give us perpetual joy!

In fact, there will be nothing there that will make us ever want to leave. “And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” As long as people inhabit this earth, nations will be in uproar; kingdoms will come and go; and we will be dealing with sickness and disease; wars and rumors of war; crime and terrorist acts; heartache and pain; broken relationships and lives torn apart. But in the perfect home ahead, there is healing from all these things. Perfect healing. Permanent healing. We can be assured that it will last because “no longer will there be any curse.”

Now remember what caused all the problems in the first place in the Garden of Eden. Simply, it was sin, and its result… the curse it brought on people and on the world. The ground that Adam was to work was cursed, causing pain and toil to all who work it. For Eve, it was pain in childbirth that came as a result. And as a result of sin, all creation groans as in pains of childbirth. Everything is affected by the curse due to sin. We may sometimes wonder what is wrong with our world and wonder why things keep getting worse. It shouldn’t really be a surprise to us. As long as we live here, we will experience the consequences of that curse.

In heaven, the curse and its consequences will be gone permanently. Never to return! Does that make you long for heaven? You know, God doesn’t remove the consequences of the curse here for that very reason. So that we long to live where perfection is restored!

And the following is a true sign that perfection will be restored: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” What makes heaven so attractive is the fact that God lives there. The Lamb, Jesus Christ, lives there. We will live there with him. And just as we are to serve him while we live on this earth, we will also serve him regularly in heaven. A form of service to God is worshipping him. In heaven, we will have opportunity to worship the Lamb constantly. Let’s not let our feeble minds interfere with the joy that thought should give us. After all, there are so many factors that interfere with our worship here. All of those will be gone in heaven. We will be in the presence of our Savior, serving him day and night.

And it won’t be like he will be isolated somewhere on a throne where we won’t really get to see him. We have this promise: 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” You and I can hardly begin to imagine the joy we will have to see the one who went to such a great extreme to save us. Think of what a great reunion it is when a loved one has gone off to war and then returns home for the first time in a long time. Perhaps there was contact through email, mail or phone calls. But nothing can beat seeing that person face to face. That’s what will happen in heaven. You will be face to face with the one who has made you his own through water and the Word, putting his name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, on you. You became his own then, and he will permanently fixate his name on you in heaven, assuring you that you are forever his.

And as permanent members of God’s family, you are assured 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”

In heaven, there is no more need for either created or artificial light. That is because Christ will provide the light naturally. Remember what that means. Think the Aaronic blessing, the benediction that we end many of our services with. The second phrase of it states: “The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.” The glory of God will illuminate heaven. And because of that, it will contain so many more blessings than we could possibly imagine. His blessings will fill the perfect home ahead forever.

One of those blessings is this: “…they will reign for ever and ever.” Because the Lamb who once was slain broke his three day prison, he does reign. Without end! And because he reigns, all who believe in him will live like royalty once we reach the perfect home ahead.

I pray that you think of this church as your home. But understand this: First Evan is far from a perfect home. There is only one perfect home and that comes when the Lord takes us from this world. It is the role of this home, First Evan, to have you look at things from that perspective. It is the role of the church here to keep you singing the refrain: I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home. My perfect home! Amen.